Summer Read – A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

Each and every summer Mrs. Darcy and I read a “classic” book.  We found a list years ago that supposedly ranks the top 100 books ever written.  I can tell you that this list is hardly accurate – we have read several books that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

Regardless, we continue each summer to blindly pick a new book from the list.  This summer takes us to A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (a dude).  And this year we will be sharing our thoughts in real time via the blog!


After reading the first chapter I can’t decide if I am jealous of the the main character, Mr. John Beaver, of if I feel sorry for him.  He’s twenty-five, unemployed and lives with his mother.  He spends his days at home waiting by the phone for someone to call and buy him lunch:

“He was twenty-five years old.  From leaving Oxford until the beginning of the slump he had worked in an advertising agency.  Since then no one had been able to find anything for him to do.  So he got up late and sat near his telephone most of the day, hoping he’d be called up.”

What am I jealous of?  First, he lives rent free.  Second, he gets to sleep in every single day.  Third, he knows enough people that someone always volunteers, or “calls up”, to buy him lunch and/or dinner.  Awesome life.

But then, later in the chapter I realize that no one actually likes him.  He doesn’t get “called up” for lunches and dinners because people like him, he gets called up because there is no one else to call.  He goes to Brats (some weird man-club) to eat lunch and no one will talk to him.  Once he leaves, the bartender talks about how boring and awful he is.

So, John Beaver, you are an enigma to me.

-Mrs. Hemingway

Well, first of all, the middle schooler in me can’t go any further without saying, “His name is Beaver.”  Hee hee.

Okay, now I’ll be an adult. The thing that first struck me about this book is that John Beaver does not have a perfectly manicured long-fingered hand. No wonder no one likes him, Mrs. Hemingway.

But really, now I’ll be serious. After all, classics are a serious topic. (Classics is a serious topic? Neither sounds right.) This book has made me realize that each reader brings his/her own perspectives and backgrounds to reading, and that has the biggest impact on how readers create meaning.

At the beginning of the book, I felt badly for poor John. No one liked him. He had no dates and lived at home. The singleton in me immediately wanted to protect him or defend him. “Of course people don’t like him…he’s not part of a couple and therefore cannot be part of the couples’ scene with everyone.” or “Of course he’s living with his mom…he probably had difficulty finding a job and therefore couldn’t support himself because he was all alone. Single.”

Remember, Mrs. Hemingway? Remember when I said that to you. And then you told me you thought he was awesome and living the dream–mooching off others and getting a free ride from his mom and others.

After you told me that, I began reading John Beaver and Mr. Waugh’s book differently. And I could see how I was probably wrong. I do now believe that John Beaver is living the dream. He’s pathetic enough to get someone to buy him drinks. He invites himself over to an acquaintance’s house for a free weekend. (And then he has the gall to complain about the bed!) And he even tries to get a free ride.

Yes, I’m quite confident that I shouldn’t feel badly for John Beaver.

(However, I do feel badly for Mr. Waugh. “Evelyn? That’s a girl’s name,” the middle schooler in me says.  hee hee.)

-Mrs. Darcy

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